21st Century Cliff Notes

OK, when I was in high school English and needed some “help” with understanding an assigned book, I could avail myself of Mr. Cliff’s seemingly limitless knowledge of classic literature. (This venerable series was actually started by a man named Cliff Hillegass; I always wrongly assumed that Cliff was his last name.) You may have relied on these familiar yellow-and-black-striped books yourself, or maybe you spent more time with Spark Notes or Pink Monkey notes.

As a student I always felt a bit disingenuous consulting books like these, as if I were cheating somehow (even though I don’t recall any teacher explicitly forbidding us from using them). As a teacher, I encouraged my students to use resources like Cliffs Notes or Spark Notes since they helped them establish a clear sense of what was happening in the text; as a scaffold, these resources could be very helpful, as long as they didn’t take the place of reading the actual, assigned texts.

Today’s students, though, can take advantage of some hip, modern resources to provide both summary and helpful analysis of classic and even some young adult texts. Continue reading